Chatham District Attorney’s Office prepares hundreds of cases ahead of judicial emergency expiration

Chatham District Attorney’s Office prepares hundreds of cases ahead of judicial emergency expiration

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A statewide judicial emergency has been in effect in Georgia since mid-March.

Earlier this month, the Georgia Supreme Court announced that order would be extended a second time, not ending until June 12.

WTOC spoke with Chatham County’s top prosecutor, District Attorney Meg Heap, about what will happen locally when that order expires.

Just because the court can’t operate like normal, doesn’t mean the attorneys and staff within the Chatham District Attorneys Office haven’t been busy.

“911 calls they’re reviewing, jail interviews. It’s really been very busy," said District Attorney Meg Heap.

So busy, in fact, prosecutors have lined up hundreds of cases, now just waiting to be heard.

“We’ve got this pipeline that’s almost bulging now. I think over 700 cases have been accused and are waiting to go to grand jury when the courts open back up," Heap said.

Realizing that number will be too much for just one grand jury, DA Heap said she’s asked the court to have a second grand jury impaneled once court operations open back up.

Heap said, “In my mind we would have one panel meet on one day, and a second panel meet on the other day.”

But then comes the question of how to keep those grand jurors socially distanced, since teleconferencing isn’t legally an option.

Heap said she’s been collaborating with the judges and other court staff to come up with solutions.

“Another thing I would love for the community to know as well is the courthouse is going to be deeply cleaned before anybody comes back. I know we’re doing it in our office and I know that the judges are worried about it.”

Heap said she’s hopeful jury trials can resume in the late summer, but adds she doesn’t believe it will happen before August.

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